The Yosemite Badgers faced the mighty Liberty Hawks (3-3, 0-1) in their 2019 North Sequoia League opener. YHS went to Madera Ranchos having not won an NSL game in nearly a decade.
What a difference a year makes.
The Badgers put the game away on a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown by Holden Eames and defeated Liberty 40-28. The Badgers played against a physical and well-coached Liberty squad. In the end, the Badgers were the more physical team and won it in the fourth quarter.
The Badgers are now 6-0 overall and 1-0 in the NSL. MaxPreps.com has YHS ranked No. 1 in the Central Section Division V rankings. The Badgers were also chosen as the ‘Team of the Week’ by Channel 47 of Fresno. It was quite a night for the Badger Faithful.
It was also a historic victory.
The Badgers won their first North Sequoia League game since 2011. During that time, YHS went through a 32-game losing streak and did not play football in the NSL in 2016 or 2017.
YHS returned to the NSL last year, went 0-4 and were outscored 211-49 in those losses.
The win also avenges a 53-14 loss to Liberty at YHS last season.
“This was a huge win for our program,” Badger head coach Chance Sigala said. “The players really rallied around our goals we set this week. They bought into the game plan all the coaches put together. This was a complete team win.”
The game was close the entire way. The Badgers scored first on a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jaydn Carter to Steven Baker. Carter made an athletic scramble across the field and found Baker in the flat.
Liberty answered on a 23-yard touchdown run by Tyler Miller.
Badger running back Nicholas Harper scored the first of his three touchdowns early in the second quarter on a 45-yard run.
Liberty answered with a long drive that ended with Rylan Howe scoring from the one. Harper scored again, this time from the six and YHS had the lead.
But the Hawks answered. This time it was Quentin Stewart who scored from 15-yards. The Hawks went into halftime up 21-20.
Harper scored on a 10-yard pass from Carter and YHS had a 27-20 lead going into the fourth quarter. Howe scored again from the one and the Hawks had a 28-27 lead with under five minutes to play.
Liberty did not score again. From their 37, the Hawks tried a trick play. Eames stepped in for the pick and raced 44-yards for the touchdown.
The Badgers sealed the win when Yosmar Welborn forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
From there, it was all Harper and Ernie Jimenez. Jimenez put the game away on a 21-yard touchdown run.
“We beat a good football team,” Sigala said. “It went back and forth but our athletes never gave up. Our team overcame all obstacles that got in their way. I am very proud of them.”
Overall, the Badger running game rushed 40 times for 308 yards. Harper had a big night with 244 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Jimenez added 56 and a TD. Carter was an efficient 11-18 for 122 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Steven Baker led YHS with 4 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line has been hit with injuries. Starting tackle Joey Star suffered a broken leg. Sean Miller, another starter, is also out. Fernando Castillo stepped in.
On defense, Kevin Welborn led YHS with 14 tackles.
Eames notched sixth interception in 2019. Eames, the all-time leader at YHS in interceptions, has run back two picks for scores.
Yosemite travels to Kerman The Badgers have another tough road trip, traveling to face the Kerman Lions (3-4, 1-0) on Friday, Oct. 11.
The Lions will celebrate their homecoming after coming off a 35-28 win at home over NSL foe Chowchilla.
The Kerman Lions, coached by Stephen Hurt, are coming off a 7-5 campaign in 2018 that included a 35-0 Division IV playoff win against Chavez of Delano.
The Lion football program is often playoff-bound and receives strong community support. The Lions have a balanced offense averaging 128 yards passing and 108 on the ground. Lion senior QB Gavin Layton is 44 of 91 passing for 601 yards. Layton has 4 TDs and 4 INTs. He also is a threat on the ground as the team’s second-leading rusher with 233 yards and 4 touchdowns. Joeoanh Acosta is the Lions leading ground-gainer, rushing for 419 yards on 79 carries for a 5.3 average. Jacob Aviles (133 yards) and Bryan Valadez (130) are the top targets for Layton.
Acosta and Valadez will face a strong pass defense. The Badger defense has come up big time after time. Tough road wins have only boosted their confidence. They get after the quarterback and don’t miss many tackles. But Sigala knows Kerman will be a challenge.
“Kerman is going to be a tough road game for us,” Sigala said. “They have won two straight and are building momentum. They have a potent offense that can score quickly. We need to be at our best defensively. Our team is excited to play in another road homecoming game. We will have to be at our best and need a great week of practice with laser focus.”